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Software Editorial

Lessons Proprietary Software Can Teach Open Source 359

cdlu writes "Kris Shaffer at Newsforge argues that just because software is open source doesn't mean it should be unpopular. What lessons, he asks, can open source projects learn from popular proprietary software?" From the article: "In the absence of a monopoly, there are three traits that are likely to make an application popular: it is cool or attractive in some way, it provides easy entry, and it is addictive. Barring these things, most average users will stick with the status quo. In fact, many users never use a program on their computer that did not come pre-installed. However, by creating an attractive, easy to set up, addictive application, a developer can motivate the average user to break this barrier and try something new. And several such applications can generate strong popular interest in the open source movement in general."
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Lessons Proprietary Software Can Teach Open Source

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  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) * on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:28PM (#12214704) Homepage Journal
    there are three traits that are likely to make an application popular: it is cool or attractive in some way, it provides easy entry, and it is addictive.

    Ah. It makes sense now...

    • MS Office Opium
    • MS Office Morphine, to help you break your addiction to MS Office Opium
    • MS Office Heroin, to help you break your addiction to MS Office Morphine
    Clearly businesses do have alternatives, we just didn't know the code names.

    next up: MS Office Crack, soon to be followed by Out-Of-Money and switching to Open Office to break the cycle.

    Sounds more like video games, as they can be very addictive, but I don't ever recall lying awake at night, with the shakes, because it's been 36 hours since my last hit of Excel.

    Easy entry, I'd assume means easy to access the application and use it, getting desired results with a minimum of fuss. I can't say this is exclusive to proprietary software, because some highly successful packages have very steep learning curves and can vary from version to version in ways which can be maddening. (I recently replaced a several step process for producing lists with a one-button application and the end-user was alarmed because the page count didn't match what they expected. Well, I added an extra item per page because I had space, guess I should have explained that one, eh? But it completely bypassed the need for Office Tools, which were a large source of frustration in a frequently run process.)

    Reliability seems to be overrated, however, as I've seen any number of vendor packages blow up, and an IT manager simply say, "well let me know when you get it fixed" Even when it's a desktop app that several users may be using (and man, will they whine when they lose even a minutes work!)

    Perhaps what proprietary software is best at is concealing easter eggs.

    • Sounds more like video games, as they can be very addictive, but I don't ever recall lying awake at night, with the shakes, because it's been 36 hours since my last hit of Excel.

      I don't recall ever being that addicted to a game. Hopefully this is just a metaphor...
      • It's no Analogy (Score:4, Informative)

        by uberdave ( 526529 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:36PM (#12214827) Homepage
        It's [] not a metaphor. Many people exhibit symptoms of adictive behaviour towards their computers.
      • Evidently you've never played City of Heroes [].
        I'll never get those eight months back. It was so worth it though...
      • I've never been that bad, but I do recall lying awake at night, unable to get to sleep because I was thinking about what strategy I should take up when I continue that game of Civilization 2 Gold I had been playing for 12 hours before...
    • Maybe a good code name for Open Office would be "Methodrone".
    • From the article: In fact, many users never use a program on their computer that did not come pre-installed.

      My parents use GAIN software all the time.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      suit that has spreadsheet funtionality of more than 256 columns. I am running into data table with more than 1000xtens of thousand elements i=on a daily basics.

      Does anyone know of a spreadsheet with this large table capacities?
    • by TheViewFromTheGround ( 607422 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:35PM (#12215572) Homepage
      Sounds more like video games, as they can be very addictive, but I don't ever recall lying awake at night, with the shakes, because it's been 36 hours since my last hit of Excel.

      On the other hand, only software companies and drug dealers call their customers and clients users.

  • Too Funny (Score:5, Funny)

    by airrage ( 514164 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:29PM (#12214709) Homepage Journal
    "..attractive in some way, it provides easy entry, and it is addictive."

    Interesting turn of a phrase ...
  • by jarich ( 733129 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:29PM (#12214720) Homepage Journal
    Any doubts about that? Check out the latest wave of Linux distros and their adoption rates. The distros that have live CDs are thriving. See Knoppix and Ubuntu for examples.
    • ...An office suite that is as easy to use as this:

      and as addictive as this is:

  • by Omkar ( 618823 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:30PM (#12214732) Homepage Journal
    During my freshman year, I've watched a huge number of college kids switch to FireFox because of peer recommendations. Some of them even get and Thunderbird. I OSS software, especially for Windows, will continue to grow in popularity on quality alone.
  • Wow! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Otter ( 3800 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:33PM (#12214767) Journal
    In the absence of a monopoly, there are three traits that are likely to make an application popular: it is cool or attractive in some way, it provides easy entry, and it is addictive.

    Gee, with insight like that it's hard to imagine how the LNUX stock price could be down 99.8% from its peak!

  • Yeah, Right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by menace3society ( 768451 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:33PM (#12214770)
    In the absense of a monopoly, he says...
  • Killer App (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thesuperbigfrog ( 715362 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:33PM (#12214776)
    It sounds like they are describing the characteristics of a Killer App--addictive, easy-to-use, and cool. I can think of a few OS programs that fall into this catergory, relative to the user's perception of "easy-to-use." For me, CLI is easy-to-use, so apps like mplayer or emacs are killer apps, though I'm not sure the general public would agree. . .
  • Get the job done. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by teiresias ( 101481 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:33PM (#12214777)
    People will use whichever application that gets the job done or in the case of a game, provides the most fun. That's it. Most don't care whether it's propreitary or open source. Does it get my e-mail? Does it write my term paper for me? Does it allow me to kill robots? Yes. That's all I care about.

    All the rest is just FUDD that programmers worry about. Your common user doesn't much care. If both IE and Firefox were on every computer we'd see people use the one that got the job done.
    • by ravind ( 701403 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:45PM (#12214946)
      Get the job done, and done easily. Three words I can't emphasize enough "USER INTERFACE DESIGN".

      As a programmer, and especially on a volunteer project, it's very easy to get caught up with creating an elegant algorithm and then writing your application around that. Unfortunately what might seem elegant from a programming point of view is often not intuitive from an end user's perspective and this is where many open source applications suffer.

    • I think you're wrong. People care a lot about looking good. If they can skin the program, so much the better. Look at winamp - it was no better than the alternatives at playing mp3s, but while it had skins and WMP didn't, it was huge.
      • Re:Get the job done. (Score:3, Informative)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        Look at winamp - it was no better than the alternatives at playing mp3s, but while it had skins and WMP didn't, it was huge.

        I think you're wrong. Winamp WAS better than the alternatives at playing MP3s, especially because it is small, fast, extensible (and frequently extended, even back in the day) and takes little resources. Oh, and it's skinnable. That's a nice side benefit but the fact is that it was the best mp3 player around back in the day and it still is in most ways.

        The primary competition

    • "If both IE and Firefox were on every computer we'd see people use the one that got the job done."

      Too bad most people don't have that chance.
    • "All the rest is just FUDD that programmers worry about."

      Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt, and... what... more Doubt? :-)
  • by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:33PM (#12214781) Journal
    The vast majority of closed source apps are sold, marketed. Partnering gets them on the desktop.

    If we were talking about religions, closed source is Chrisianity, with missionaries, and wars and such.

    Open source is Buhddism, where one must go and seek out enlightenment himself. There are no wars fought, to missionaries spreading the word. One adpots buhddism dur to principal, and not because someone else tried to sell it to me.

    Appropriately, I think the world population of Christians vs Buhddists resembles that of closed-source vs open source. The same goes for adotion rates.

    • by jacksonj04 ( 800021 ) <> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:41PM (#12214899) Homepage
      Personally, I feel that OSS has plenty of missionaries. Sadly they're all the kind who beat on your door then wax lyrical about something you don't care about.

      OSS needs the missionaries who can go and get people interested on what they find useful.

      For example, Firefox. Don't go banging on about security vs. IE, and the fact it has no ActiveX, because they don't care. Show people tabbed browsing and they're hooked.
      • I hate tabbed browsing, but I still use Firefox. Mainly because of the security and pop-up blocking features.

        If you had shown me tabbed browsing first, I'd have given you a big "meh".
      • by CaptainPinko ( 753849 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:12PM (#12215280)
        Show people tabbed browsing and they're hooked.

        IE 7 comes with tabbed browsing. My g/f or whomever, buy a new lappy with Win XP++ and gets IE 7. "Oh, tabs!!! Great! No need for Firefox now...". I have converted many people to FF on the power of tabs alone but I don't see what will keep these people with Firefox when IE 7 comes. Somehow we've got to get people interested in the "right" reasons or get by with "Trust me."

      • You miss the point. Yeah, there are people chatting about it, but no one is actually trying to deliver it to the masses. In otder to be a missionary, you have to get off your ass and get out there and talk to people, not just post about how great it is in some LiveJournal.

        Look at WinZip's site. Probably the most poplular add-on aside from Winamp and FireFox. They actively sell their product through the website. Show me a website attempting to sell "Ark" for the Linux masses.

        This gets to another point. Lin
    • Open source or closed source--my guess is that as long as it has a spellchecker, you'll be happy.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      This is quite possibly the worst analogy I have ever seen in my life. You know absolutely nothing about Christianity or Buddhism and you're (ironically) a horrible missionary for open-source.

    • That analogy is a bit of a stretch... With closed source or open source software, the user can be happy with either experience. For example, I'm glad to pay $49.95 and $15 a month for World of Warcraft. Based on my enjoyment of the game and the hourly cost of playing, that provides a good value to me. I'm personally very glad that the creators can make a living doing something they are so good at.

      By the same token, there is nothing wrong with Christianity simply because there are preachers who go aroun
    • by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:10PM (#12215262) Homepage
      If we were talking about religions, closed source is Chrisianity, with missionaries, and wars and such.

      Your analogy is terrible, but alas, I've always considered open source to be more like the catholic church than anything else.

      You have a pope, prophets, apostles, cardinals, bishops and priests. Then you have a flock of sheep. Unflinching ideology based on tenuous principles. Inability to compromise or accept criticism. Absolutism. All wrapped in a "join us or die" extremist mantra.

      But maybe that's just me.

    • Anyone who thinks open source is free of encumberances such as "wars", "missionaries", zealotry, intrigue, turmoil, strife, etc. etc. need only read any thread on Slashdot that mentions RMS.

      Since your UID is smaller than mine, I can only conclude that you're trolling.
    • It looks like someone needs to hang around the vi vs. emacs discussions a little more often. Or possibly GNOME vs.KDE.
  • True. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Poromenos1 ( 830658 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:35PM (#12214807) Homepage
    That is frighteningly true. I made a program a while ago that tunnels a connection to another server while relaying the incoming stream to other users (a sort of MUD TV, called snoop, download it at, and I was amazed at the amount of questions I got about what I thought was self-explanatory. I ended up making an installation program with an option to install the settings for the MUD as default, because noone would use it otherwise (well, not without asking me dozens of questions about what the "remote server" should be).
    • Re:True. (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Tiger4 ( 840741 )
      See, you ran into the problem most small app programmers just never seem to consider fully:
      The users don't care about what you care about.
      The users don't think the way you do.
      The users don't act the way you expect them to.

      Every individual user will have their own take on "how it should be done". If your app doesn't take that into consideration, it will be dropped as "too hard to use" no matter how hard you worked on it or what cool functionality it gives.

      The interface design, GUI or CLI, needs to have th
  • by doublem ( 118724 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:35PM (#12214809) Homepage Journal
    Hear me out.

    It's a boot from CD Linux, set up with all the links, video codecs and the like to let you put it in, boot and wank.

    No traces left behind on the hard drive, no audit trails. If it spoofs a MAC address (A required feature) you can even use it on many corporate networks and no one will be table to trace it to you without puring over router logs.

    Even better, make it a two part ion CD. One "regular" partition with something like documentation or even a backup of the user's data. The other is the bootable partition. A Linux partition of course, EXT3 or the like, so it can't be read from stock Windows. Design it so it looks like an Apple partition if Windows tries to get at it.

    Instant software popularity.
    • If you have to use this CD in a corporate environment for its intended use, I think you should seek help, because you have a problem!
      • by doublem ( 118724 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:53PM (#12215057) Homepage Journal
        Well, I wouldn't be using it, but we all know managers, PHBs and coworkers who would use it in a heartbeat.

        Hell, I used to work with a network admin who played his favorite porn clips for general IT consumption, with the volume cranked loud enough for the customer service people upstairs to hear it!

        If you want to make money off the CD, then start selling the links. Want links to your site included in PornLinux? Pony up the fee. Want some of your video clips (Complete with watermarks of course) on the CD in such a way as to make your site seem faster than the competitors? Pay the fee. Want to be a "preferred vendor" in the links on the CD, complete with links on the desktop instead of in the Bookmarks on the web browser? Pay the fee.

        We all know Porn was the first thing on the Net to make money. Why should Linux be any different.

        Now watch some bastard steal my idea, make a fortune and not pay me a royalty for the idea. I should patent it. Heaven knows the US Patent office would grant it in a heartbeat.
    • Holy crap... this is a GREAT idea. Not just for porn, but for any read-only file that needs to be securly archived. Programs like TrueCrypt (OSS, btw--check it out) can provide an insane level of security (and even plausible deniability), but that all falls apart at the OS level, where all kinds of remnant temp files and recent document lists and spyware can reveal you every time you view said files.

      But a self-encrypted CD and read-only OS really is (almost) foolproof. The only thing you'd need to wor
    • There's a version of Firefox for USB drive that you can use under Windows. You launch it from the USB drive and it redirects all cache and temp files to the USB drive. So you can surf on any PC knowing that you're taking the evidence with you. I don't know the link but it's in Make magazine.
      • A good starting point. I'll look into it. Of course, any OS level key logging will be a factor, and the traffic will be easily traceable to Machine Y in the logs. Temporarily changing the MAC address and machine name will be far more secure, and a simple press of the "Reset" button clear nay and all evidence.

        While there's no way to make it impossible to track the traffic back to the actual machine, it an be made difficult enough that most IT departments won't bother, especially if you;re not using much
    • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:08PM (#12215960) Homepage Journal
      "No traces left behind on the hard drive..."

      The keyboard, however, is another matter entirely. :-)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:36PM (#12214829)
    that most open source projects are made by self prclaimed experts in software design that do NOT understand the common computer user.

    When I attempted to upgrade my workplace to OpenOffice after fielding complaints about Microsoft Office -- suffice to say we are back to Microsoft.

    NEVER underestimate the value of user friendly GUI's and software design. Then again...
    • Not only do I agree 100% with this statement, but I'll actually put my name on it.

      The problem with open source projects is not a problem with the open source philosophy, it's that any idiot can start an open source project. There's no easy way to tell the difference between a project from a reputable developer and a project from a dumbass. It's as bad as buying music... you KNOW 99% of the CDs you see on the shelf are garbage, but *which* 99%? I just want to grab a CD and go, not do a bunch of research.
  • OSS fallicy number 1 (Score:3, Informative)

    by banzai51 ( 140396 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:38PM (#12214861) Journal
    Barring these things, most average users will stick with the status quo. In fact, many users never use a program on their computer that did not come pre-installed.

    I call bullshit. From corporate environments to my most technophobe friends and family this is just not true. No how many times you try and make this your mantra for MS dominance, it just isn't true. Make a compelling piece of software, and the masses will use it as long as you make it easy to use.

    • So your technophobe family members just user their broadband connection to download the last version of OpenOrfice?

      My grandfather uses Windows, MS Office and AOL because they were on the computer when he got it. The man knows how to take apart a tank, but has trouble learning how to use new programs and will stick with the first application he's presented with.
      When I set my parents up with gaim, they kept asking "so I don't have AIM anymore? Most novice-moderate users mistake what a program does with

  • Tabbed browsing (Score:3, Insightful)

    by shiznit4172 ( 773255 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:39PM (#12214867)
    I don't know about anyone else but I'm never going back to a non-tabbed browser experience. My name is Shiznit4172 and I'm addicted to tabbed browsing.
  • User friendly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by caryw ( 131578 ) <carywiedemann&gmail,com> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:40PM (#12214879) Homepage
    And not the comic strip.
    Most proprietary software is rigorously tested on the lamen to see how well he/she can negotiate around it. Where as all but the most popular open source projects, frankly, don't give a shit.

    The complaint has been around since the beginning of time, but I still haven't seen much headway.
    Fairfax Underground: Fairfax County forums and chat. Talk to your neighbors []
    • Re:User friendly (Score:3, Interesting)

      by faust2097 ( 137829 )
      Usability is all too frequently seen as a "bonus add-on" than one of the core pieces of software design. Slick icons and app "skinning" do not make anything more usable. If you developers aren't down with taking design criticism from a non-coder [as many I've encountered are] about things other than the way something looks at least take the time to read up on these subjects yourself. People like Don Norman, Steve Krug, Alan Cooper, and teams from Apple and Microsoft all have a great deal of writings on thes
    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:40PM (#12215623)
      Most proprietary software is rigorously tested on the lamen to see how well he/she can negotiate around it. Where as all but the most popular open source projects, frankly, don't give a shit.

      While I agree generally with the thrust of your argument I think it may go a little to far. I do think many open source folks care about the interface. They just aren't very good at it and lack the resources. Serious interface testing requires a lot of resources that many open source projects find difficult to come by. They need to be able to observe how people use the product and that's not always easy.

      I do think there is an opportunity for someone to create some open-source tools to help open source (and closed) with interface testing. (Maybe this exists, I'm just not aware of it) Imagine a tool which essentially records (screen capture) movies of users conducting certain tasks and also provides statistical data about things like time between button clicks, which menus were looked at and for how long, etc. I'm thinking something along the lines of a set of debugging tools (vaguely similar to a profiler I guess but for actions instead of code) which are oriented towards user interface work. The results could then be sent back to the programmers similar to how Mozilla uses TalkBack. This would solve at least one of the problems open source projects have in getting information about user interface problems.

      Of course that doesn't mean the programmers will necessarily do anything with the data but at least it provides a method for those who take interfaces seriously to get some data to improve theirs.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:40PM (#12214882)
    Proprietary mass-market apps are polished, easy to install, and friendly because the developers make money when users choose their software.

    Open source software tends to be powerful and arcane because the developers mainly benefit from having the software to use themselves and by attracting other deeply involved people to improve the software. It doesn't pay at all to make it friendly and attract useless users.

    People mostly do things for their own benefit, as they should. I don't think it's good to encourage decent people to sacrifice themselves for the benefit of people who give nothing back. That just leeches the resources of decent, generous people and gives more power to the other sort.

    If you want to sacrifice your luxuries for charity, go ahead, but don't sacrifice your living and weaken yourself to the point where you have to work at some job beneath your talents just to support your real work.
  • by paulbd ( 118132 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:41PM (#12214901) Homepage

    its a little ironic that he chose ReWire as an example of a proprietary plugin format as an case of "good stuff from the proprietary world". ironic because

    1. its not a plugin format - its an architecture that requires significant re-engineering of every application that wants to use it
    2. because the open source world has already learnt from ReWire and gone one better: JACK [] which is free of silly license restrictions, is free of silly limitations and is in every way more powerful. It runs on Linux and OS X, and is the de facto standard for inter-application audio routing on both platforms.
  • by pr0t0 ( 216378 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:42PM (#12214908)
    "What lessons, he asks, can open source projects learn from popular proprietary software?"

    How about that marketing isn't free? Commercials, magazine ads, favorable "reviews" all cost money.

    Word of mouth (keyboard) works for geeks because we know how to research products, read reviews, and of course read /., the sacred bastian of impartial news that it is. But that information doesn't readily filter down to John Q.
  • marketing (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Hollins ( 83264 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:43PM (#12214915) Homepage
    Good FOSS projects seem to need more polished marketing. Firefox has made a good first step in this direction, but I have inevitably encountered resistance to adopting FOSS solutions in various workplaces, including small companies.

    I'm not sure why this is, but when I show the decision makers a potential solution, the idea seems to be well-received until mentioning that it is free and open source, at which point interest seems to diminish. Recently, I was unable to get much consideration for pdfcreator, and it looks like we'll be buying a half dozen licenses of Acrobat, even though we just need each user to be able to generate a few (sometimes encrypted) pdfs each week.

    I'm not sure why this is. Is there a perception of lower quality? A desire to have an official support channel (even though current support for most purchased software is atrocious)? Perhaps it's a mistaken, subconcious association between FOSS developers and hacking.

    If it doesn't already exist, someone should set up a slick marketing website advocating FOSS solutions with materials for advocates to use in their workplace and content aimed toward purchasers who could use better education regarding what FOSS can provide.
    • Re:marketing (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      tell me about that PDF crap... I worked for a medium sized company on a co-op term and I was assigned the task of coming up with alternative solutions to Adobe Acrobat because it cost lots of $$$ and the user that needed the software only wanted to create a PDF maybe once a month. 2 weeks of work, and 1 comprehensive presentation to my boss about why PDF995 was our best choice (with TCO calculations and *everything*) later, and the company *still* went for Acrobat, and they didn't even give us a reason (
    • Re:marketing (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kurokaze ( 221063 )
      I suspect that its due to being able to hold someone liable in case something went wrong.. that and the perception of lower quality.

      • Re:marketing (Score:4, Insightful)

        by symbolic ( 11752 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:11PM (#12215998)

        That's hilarious. If they believe this, have them read through the EULA they probably don't know about. When has Microsoft, or ANY mass-market software company, EVER been held "accountable" for something that went wrong? Generally, that just doesn't happen.
    • Re:marketing (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Rycross ( 836649 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:00PM (#12215840)
      I think its all of the above. Free implies low quality. For most people, a product without a company behind it implies homemade which implies low quality. Open source implies "if you want support, post in the forum and get told to RTFM." Plus you can't hold a company liable. If one of my open source apps doesn't work, I can't call up the company and complain until they fix it. Also, if you're paying someone money, then theres some concept of that person oweing you a functioning product.

      It basically comes down to support, control, and quality, it seems. Open source and free software still has a reputation of being unusable, low quality, and lacking support.
  • XP Import wizard (Score:4, Insightful)

    by scorp1us ( 235526 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:44PM (#12214933) Journal
    Is there a linux-side import wizard where I can import XP settings into Linux? Everything from desktop to window colors and such?

    XP has an app that will package your computer up and transfer it to another. I think if there was a way that we could attach linux to the other side (Without XP knowing it was actually talkign to a linux box) that would go a long way to easing the transition.

    I prefer KDE, but I would be interested in knowing if there is one for GNOME too.

  • by toounknown ( 634544 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:45PM (#12214947) Homepage
    Well, I think that for any piece of software to be popular:

    It must provide functionality that is useful/interesting/fun (Productivity/Information/Games)

    It must be easy to use, intuitive and of high enough quality that bugs are minimal

    Software needs some form of advertising to make it popular. Popularity feeds popularity (Microsoft). Usually if the functionality offered is unique enough and useful enough, word of mouth/search engines take over and help with this.
  • Think Irfanview (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gosand ( 234100 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:52PM (#12215043)
    Irfanview is one of the best pieces of software I have used. I really really wish that it was ported to Linux, I haven't found anything close to it. It is free and it simply kicks ass. It is fast, feature-rich, and has new features added often. It isn't full of restrictions and is not evil. It is the exception to the proprietary software model.
  • Sweet Jesus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by John Seminal ( 698722 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:53PM (#12215059) Journal
    In the absence of a monopoly, there are three traits that are likely to make an application popular: it is cool or attractive in some way, it provides easy entry, and it is addictive.

    No, don't follow that advice when making software. If you want it to be popular, make is useful and easy to use. That does not mean dumbing it down, but make good MAN pages. If you are a tech wizard, let 2 or 3 people who are tech idiots read the MAN pages to see if they can figure it out. A english major would be a good person for this task.

    I'll give you a clue. When there is some new tool in linux I want to use, if I can't figure it out in an hour, I move on to something else. My time is valuable. Don't make it a puzzle.

    • Re:Sweet Jesus (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wes33 ( 698200 )
      very good point. One key feature missing from almost all man pages is just this: examples. Pretend you don't know how to use find, but wanted to look for a file. Type "man find" and try to figure that out :) Some examples of basic usage are always helpful.
  • Innovate! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by water-and-sewer ( 612923 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:55PM (#12215068) Homepage
    This is an axe I've been meaning to grind for awhile now. OSS is like the world's biggest development and research laboratory. Given infinite resources and gallons and gallons of free code sloshing back and forth out there, OSS has yet to come up with something stellar.

    That's not to say the OSS world hasn't made progress, and even come up with some interesting and useful things. I love it that I can open remote files over FTP from a KDE "open file" dialogue. I really love Jedit's plug-in architecture, not to mention its plug ins. I love auctex and emacs and save time with bash scripts and catalog my crap with a Mysql database.

    So where's the radical new approach to software? I'm off to buy a copy of OS X Tiger because I want spotlight and dashboard for my Mac, knowing full well I can download Beagle and zeroconf for Linux.

    I'm afraid all of the "but Windows users won't go for it" mentality is damping the creative juices of developers who are afraid to radically alter the computing paradigm in fear of alienating the Windows sheep that won't switch to any OS that doesn't exactly mimic the Windows software they use mediocrely. So we're forced to shoot for the lowest common denominator.

    What would happen if, just for a moment, a group of smart people with full access to OSS code and no particular interest in pandering to the sheep put their minds together and came up with something radical?

    I don't know what that radical thing would be -- I'm not one of those smart people -- but I do know computing is remarkably unchanged compared to the state of things 10 years ago. Linux has caught up with Windows as far as I can tell. So where is the innovation? What could we do if we weren't so busy trying to keep up with the boring monolith in Redmond?
    • Re:Innovate! (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JLavezzo ( 161308 )

      >What could we do if we weren't so busy trying to keep up with the boring monolith in Redmond?

      We could start trying to keep up with Apple...

      Seriously, I think this is what the parent article is about. His examples: iLife and Konfabulator are essentially OS X aps.
      Most importantly, his point is we're not that far off from keeping up and nosing ahead.
      With a little organization and funding these innovations really aren't too far off. I can imagine the funding coming from Novell, Red Hat and Ubuntu.


  • Gee, so products that are hard to use, impossible to install, so convoluted you get a headache trying to use them and so rough around the edges nobody would ever want to try them (i.e. virtually every open source program on earth) WONT be popular?

    The problem with most open source is that it's by nerds, for nerds. This is perfect if your target audience is nerds, but not if it's grandma. The installs make perfect sence to someone who once ported linux to a camera, but not to the average user. The interfa
  • by montulli ( 658308 ) * on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:55PM (#12215081) Homepage
    Fit and finish! Most open source projects lack the will to finish the small details to make a software product really shine. Bad installers, incomplete preferences UI, lack of visual style, and little to no documentation. All the little details take about as long to do as the major portion of the application and most projects lack the will or funding to go the final mile. It's also not very sexy to work on the final finish details. Most people would much rather fix bugs or implement new cool features than work on tiny UI details or *gasp* write some documentation.
  • Pretty obvious (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rbanffy ( 584143 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @02:58PM (#12215122) Homepage Journal
    Just like anything that's already said, this one seems quite obvious.

    Any FOSS product will be popular if:

    - It is easy or easier to use than alternatives
    - It gets the job done
    - It gives something alternatives don't
    - It provides as little as possible disruption

    I would like to point out a couple examples:

    I use Gaim on Windows XP (and under Linux - under OSX I prefer AdiumX, which is libgaim-based anyway) all the time. I have converted some people to it, but most of the non-conversions are due to lacking features like video or voice (I know it will be solved soon, if not already). It gives something MSN, Yahoo, ICQ and AIM don't: having more than one account logged on at the same time. Lacking features, tough, limit adoption. Running under Windows is a must - anything else limits adoption to, at most, 10% of the market.

    My girlfriend was sold on Firefox because of the tabbed browsing. RSS is great and being able to import bookmarks is very convenient (But I am not very happy to lose the standard RSS links when I do so)

    Similarly, Calc could win some users if it did something Excel would not do, like Monte Carlo analysis (I would love this one) or more than 256 columns on a single sheet (A client of mine would have switched from Excel just because of this). As it is, OOo Calc does neither. As a whole, OOo not being able to run natively under MacOS's GUI is also a problem.

    I love to be able to export OOo Impress presentations as Flash movies, but I would like to add, forgive-me, more flashy features, like animated transitions. I would be very happy if I could export it as .fla instead so someone could edit the presentation and make it, well, flashier.

    Please note that ease of use means "it's easy to make it do what I want it to". Apache may be devilishly hard to use by a casual user, but a trained professional can make it do things IIS cannot, will not and would not even dare to try.

    Well. My US$ 0.02...

  • it is cool or attractive in some way, it provides easy entry, and it is addictive

    I guess usefulness and usability doesn't count anymore where this guy lives.

  • ...addictive

    Supertux []!!!

    'nuff said. I'll go back to play.

  • Why it's this way. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by C_Kode ( 102755 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:17PM (#12215340) Journal
    It's this way because in the FS world most applications are made because "Bob" wants it so "Bob" writes it. Commercial (proprietary) software is usually written for the masses. When several people in the FS world like what Bob's writing they all chip in and help. Most of the time the problem is that the skeleton of the application is already written with a hideous UI and/or configurating system. Bob was writing something to help himself. Not something easy to use for the masses.

    Kris brings up iLife. iLife is more than just an application, it's a service. If "Bob" were to write an application like iLife, he would be required to offer services like iTunes. Well, "Bob" doesn't have financial backing to employ services like that.

    My point is that when you write something like iLife, you must start from the beginning with the plan of these being used by thousands of people and you must already have the resources to develop something like this. iLife wasn't created from the Wits of one man. There was a large collaboration before any real work (and money for the matter) went into such an application.
  • Ask Joe User (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Spy der Mann ( 805235 ) <spydermann.slash ... minus cat> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:18PM (#12215354) Homepage Journal
    Tell him what he doesn't like about certain software, and why.

    Unfortunately, (some) Linux Gurus have forgotten the meaning of usability. Accustomed to the intrincated labyrinths of the command line, they just don't care to make something more user friendly (particularly the installations).

    It's like moving from the city (with all comodities) to the jungle. Unfortunately, developers don't have a team of "joe user" testers. And sometimes they ABHOR them. It's not rare (at least for me) that you encounter a FOSS project whose author says: "Want this feature? Implement it yourself". However, the developer doesn't help AT ALL so you can incorporate those features.

    I remember a FOSS GUI/language (whose name I shall not dare utter in public) where I wasn't given the least of support. The devs never bothered to make a simple class diagram, or documentation so I could help doing the development in windows. It's been 6 years, and only in the last months it got out of "pre-beta".

    And it's worse when your requests get denied "by principle". i.e. (from another FOSS project)
    "Why can't I just click on the form and add the control? Why do I have to select the stupid sizer from the object tree? Can't you make this process transparent?" Then expect a long philosophical discussion on why you can't do something that you're always used to (VB, Delphi, etc).

    Sincerely, it's hard when geniuses take the control over the USABILITY DESIGN of their software. They're not hired to make something look or feel right, they do as they please.

    Or simply they like some existing FOSS that isn't user friendly but more popular, and never started clones that would rock

    i.e. have you seen Linux ports (clones) of:

    - Photoshop (GIMP is better, we don't use photocrap)
    - irfanview (what?)
    - Visual Basic (real programmers use python/c++ / don't use GUIs / program using the API themselves / insert your stupid excuse here)

    In general, I can give a simple phrase for FOSS programmers to remember:

    "The user (customer) is always right". Trust me, it'll make your program much more popular than it is now.
  • web apps? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ashot ( 599110 ) <ashot@molsoft . c om> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:21PM (#12215406) Homepage
    In this context its easy to see why web apps are becoming more and more popular. As technologies improve the gap between RIA and desktop application narrow, and yet the threshold for using an application online, ie visiting a url, vs installing software and all that entails (security risks, uninstalling if you didn't like it, etc) is substantially lower.

    This actually gives me an idea.. why not have a framework for the installation/removal of applications which removes most of this hastle, making installing (and removing) an application as easy as visiting a website?

    Ignoring the security problems for a second, isn't this possible? I know I just click "next" a x times until the app installs. Just standardize and automate this process completely, everytime I use the software download a new version if its available, etc..

    Webstart and Central come close, but there is nothing like this for native apps.. or is there?
  • autopackage! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by radarsat1 ( 786772 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @03:57PM (#12215800) Homepage
    am i really the first to mention it? AutoPackage should make things better for linux.. once users see some Click-Install action, they'll love it. (Personally I don't have a problem with Synaptic, but it's not what users are used to. I watched my friend using OS X once and he downloaded an app, and installed it without even thinking. Drag-dropped it right into the dockbar and he went and used it. Users tend to prefer this than starting up a special "install new software" app..)
  • by miyako ( 632510 ) < minus language> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:11PM (#12215997) Homepage Journal
    I think that the actual reason that there is limited adoption of F/OSS software is that most people who use it don't want to see Joe User using their software, I think that at the end of the day, a lot of the geeks would perfer to see uncle joe and aunt tilly to go with a proprietary/semi-proprietary solution like Apple, or yes even Microsoft.
    I think the real reason that a lot of people shout about wanting F/OSS adoption is they actually just want a little more support from commerical vendors.
  • UI Design (Score:4, Interesting)

    by KaiserZoze_860 ( 714450 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:20PM (#12216110) Homepage
    I think a great analogy for this is the automotive industry: the people that design and build the engine are not the same people that design the dashboard/body/etc. The software created by the OS community are great engines. That's it.

    While user testing is the best way to develop user friendly apps, there are known values and 'best practices' available to GUI designers that the hard core coder is not familiar with. Millions of dollars worth of university research is poured into understanding users and a lot of that info is freely available. Just using the basics can already improve many apps out there.

    So, 2 things need to happen: 1- the OSS community needs to breed/recruit designers with a background in UI development. 2- Integration of the code and the UI needs to be easy to prototype and finish. As a designer, I know layout, but I don't know anything about windowing or developing in APIs. So I would need another piece of software (like VB or at the least the Design View of Access) where I can move around the widgets and components and graphics then mesh it all together later.
  • My own experience (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anita Coney ( 648748 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:30PM (#12216248) Homepage
    I've been trying to switch to Linux from Windows for several years. I always have trouble trying to get something working or to get some software to complete a certain task. I have to search through thousands of sites to find the correct answer I need, and at times, it can be frustrating.

    Contrast that to the fantastic experience I had with BeOS 5 Personal Edition. It installed in under five minutes. Set up all my hardware, including a TV card. For any task I wanted, I could simply go to and get what I needed. It wasn't too long that I dumped Windows completely and used Be exclusively. If Be hadn't folded, I'd probably still be using BeOS to this day. For the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to be a mac-head. I truly loved BeOS on an emotional level.

    I can't help but think that because BeOS had a single company behind it, that switching was made much easier. While open source is great for getting something to work. Proprietary software is great for making the process easy and pleasurable. (Of course Microsoft is changing that rule via Product Activation. Calling up and asking permission to change your hardware is about as frustrating an experience as you can get.)

  • in other words... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drew ( 2081 ) on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @04:46PM (#12216432) Homepage
    as JWZ said it:
    "How will this software get my users laid []" should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).
  • by jago25_98 ( 566531 ) <jago25_98 AT hotmail DOT com> on Tuesday April 12, 2005 @06:29PM (#12217622) Homepage Journal
    People tend to have abilities that polarise into 2 camps:

    - `empathy` with code
    - empathy with people

    So the people who code best aren't so good at getting into the mind of the numbskull.

    The problem isn't quite as bad as you think.

    Non-coders, this is where you come in.

    I have often noticed things in OSS that can be improved and as someone who doesn't enjoy coding I find I'm really good at noticing useability problems.

    I sometimes put in requests but I feel I'm stepping out of line because I don't code. In fact it seems rude to use someones gift to you and then critique it. Value the views of the non-coder.

    - so you have to be massively diplomatic and even then your suggestions will probably be ignored because...

    - there's little incentive for OSS to work well for non coders.

    If anyone can think of ways to improve these problems please get in touch. Computers are annoying enough.

Scientists are people who build the Brooklyn Bridge and then buy it. -- William Buckley